Beyond Transparency

Hildy Gottlieb on “How “opening up” can help organizations achieve their missions” in Stanford Social Innovation Review : “…For the past two years, Creating the Future, a social change research and development laboratory, has been experimenting to find the answer to that question. In the process, we have learned that when organizations are more open in their work, it can improve both the work itself and the results in the communities they serve.
In December 2012, Creating the Future’s board voted to open all its board and strategy meetings (including meetings for branding, resource development, and programming) to anyone who wished to attend and participate.
Since our organization is global, we hold our meetings via Google Hangout, and community members participate via a dedicated Twitter hashtag. Everyone is encouraged to participate—through asking questions and sharing observations—as if they are board members, whether or not they are.
This online openness mirrors the kind of inclusive, participatory culture that many grassroots neighborhood groups have fostered in the “real world” for decades. As we’ve studied those groups and experienced open engagement for ourselves, here are some of the things we’ve learned that can apply to any organization, whether they are working at a distance or in person.

What Being Open Makes Possible

1.  Being open adds new thinking to the mix. We can’t overstate this obvious practical benefit for every strategic issue an organization considers. During a recent discussion of employee “paid time off” policies, a participant with no formal relationship to the organization powerfully shifted the board’s conversation and perspectives away from the rigidity of a policy, focusing instead on the values of relationships, outcomes, buy-in, and adaptability. That input helped the board clarify its intent. It ultimately chose to scrap the idea of a certain amount of “paid time off,” in favor of an outcomes-based approach that provides flexibility for both employees and their supervisors.
2. Being open flattens internal communications. Opening all our meetings has led to cross-pollination across every aspect of our organization, providing an ongoing opportunity for sharing information and resources, and for developing everyone’s potential as leaders….
3. Being open walks the talk of the engaged communities we want to see. From the moment we opened the doors to our meetings, people have walked in and found meaningful ways to become part of our work. …
It seems so simple: If we want to engage the community, we just need to open the doors and invite people in!
4. Being open creates meaningful inclusion. Board diversity initiatives are intended to ensure that an organization’s decision-making reflects the experience of the community it serves. In reality, though, there can never be enough seats on a board to accomplish inclusion beyond what often feels like tokenism. Creating the Future’s board doesn’t have to worry about representing the community, because our community members represent themselves. And while this is powerful in an online setting, it is even more powerful when on-the-ground community members are part of a community-based organization’s decision-making fabric.
5. Being open creates more inclusive accountability. During a discussion of cash flow for our young organization, one concerned board member wondered aloud whether adhering to our values might be at cross-purposes with our survival. Our community members went wild via Twitter, expressing that it was that very code of values that drew them to the work in the first place. That reminder helped board members remove scarcity and fear from the conversation so that they could base their decision on what would align with our values and help accomplish the mission.
The needs of our community directly impacted that decision—not because of a bylaws requirement for “voting members” but simply because we encouraged community members to actively take part in the conversation….(More)”